On the Tracks


            London            One iron law of ACORN travel is, “when you’re ready, get going; you never know what might be ahead of you.”  My plane from Amsterdam to London to reconnect with my roundtrip ticket home was close to 7AM on Monday morning, but it still made sense to catch an early train to the hotel near Schiphol.

I was at the Heerlen train station almost 30 minutes early.  Checking the board, all was in order and good to go.  Minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive, there was a flashing notice that one track was down “due to an accident,” and the 9:19 would only go to the neighboring city of Sittard.  There were two railway police that had appeared in the waiting area.  I approached the older, more senior looking officer.  I asked if he spoke English, making sure I could communicate.  He quipped back at me, “yes,” and then parried with, “do you?”  I admitted, just barely.  I liked him already.

He quickly told me he would be going to Sittard with us, and a bus had been arranged to take us from there to the next stop on the line.  I asked him what was going on?  He said it was a suicide on the tracks, between Sittard and the next stop, Roemond.  There were only two tracks coming into Heerlen, so when one was down, there was a problem.  That didn’t end the conversation; it was like the dam broke.  He told me there were 600 suicides on the train tracks annually, and he claimed death-by-train was the most common method of taking one’s life.  I expressed shock at this news, and said something like, “how tragic.”  He added that he had been riding with the engineer once and saw the train hit someone who jumped onto the tracks, and it was terrible.  He added further that he had a rail police colleague who killed himself that way.  He kept repeating that fact to me as we stood there overlooking the tracks with people milling around behind us preparing for the train.  It was obviously traumatic for him.

I mentioned all of this on my daily call home, but did so in brief.  Looking for confirmation via search engines, I read a different story.  These sites claimed that suicides in the Netherlands were decreasing.  Hardly more than 1900 total, and that suicide by train only accounted for 10%.  That study was dated earlier in 2024.  Studies based on the years between 2010 to 2018, also indicated that the rate of suicides by rail had been decreasing, because of railway precautionary measures that were taken during that period to deter such activity.  Additionally, they argued that given the frequency of travel and number of rail travelers, the incidence was also very low.

Who was right?  The train cop or the researchers?  Was I caught in a misinformation web?  Ironically, between my train-bus-train-bus trip to Schiphol, I was reading a book on my Kindle about misinformation:  Falsehoods Fly: Why Misinformation Spreads and How to Stop It by University of Waterloo professor, Paul Thagard.  The book had been a slough, more written as a textbook for his class, despite his claims, than for the interested, but general reader.  Credit where credit is due, Professor Thagard may have nailed the problem for me.  One of the primary drivers of misinformation, he claimed, is “motivated reasoning, which reaches conclusions based on personal goals and group identities rather than evidence.”  Given how much my cop buddy was impacted by witnessing a suicide and having a co-worker choose this end game, he may have been motivated to see this as common, especially since, even on this Sunday, he was dealing with it.  Truth to tell, I was ready to believe it, and on my call home, I became what the professor called “a spreader.”

Where does the truth lie?  I’m not sure now, but until I know for sure, I’m zipping my lips, which is also recommended for dealing with misinformation.  Luckily, I still was old school enough to practice: “trust but verify.”